Australia’s Views of Mideast Scene

Australia regards this week’s meeting between Premier Menachem Begin and President Carter as “an extremely important event in what is without any doubt or exaggeration, an absolutely critical year for the Middle East conflict.” The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Andrew Peacock, gave this assessment Monday in presenting his government’s latest statement on the Middle East.

Peacock said that the commitments and assurances given by the new Begin government “did not amount to the intransigent stance which some expected of the new government, an expectation fed by some statements reported from Israel about the future of the West Bank.” If the new government was prepared to negotiate on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 242, Peacock added, it was well placed to do so domestically. “It is a well established truism of politics that a conservative government is often the best instrument to introduce for reaching changes, because it will make these changes more acceptable to those who are most suspicious of them.”

In a speech to the Northeastern Jewish Community Center in Melboume, Peacock warned that unless attempts by Carter to reconvene the Geneva peace conference were successful, the prospect of a new Middle East war involving many civilian deaths was very real. The speech was the most comprehensive statement on the Arab-Israel conflict since the present Liberal Party government came to power in 1975.

On the issue of a Palestinian state, Peacock said that there had been “increasing international recognition that any settlement will have to take account of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to a homeland alongside Israel. This is not merely a matter of justice and humanity, though it is that. It is also a matter of recognizing that real peace cannot come to the region, that the political atmosphere will become poisoned by hate and fanaticism until the need for a homeland for these people is met.

At the same time, Peacock emphasized it was “an entirely legitimate concern of Israel’s that whatever entity controls such a homeland should live in peace with its neighbors.” He said the PLO would have to abandon its covenant calling for Israel’s destruction and that this was an essential prerequisite of progress towards a settlement. As to the particular form which a Palestinian homeland might take, this was “in the Australian view, a matter for the parties directly concerned to determine. Any arrangement acceptable to those parties would have Australian support,” Peacock said.

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